WT Piloting New Program Aimed at Improving Students’ Skills Beyond Classroom

WT+Piloting+New+Program+Aimed+at+Improving+Students%E2%80%99+Skills+Beyond+Classroom

CANYON, Texas — When West Texas A&M University students begin classes Jan. 17 for the spring semester, many will take part in a pilot program designed to better help them reach their full potential.

The WT Division for Student Affairs won a $300,000 grant in October from the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board to plan and implement the new “Journey of the Buffalo” initiative.

Partnering with Advising Services and the Office for Diversity and Inclusion, Student Affairs leaders developed a three-pronged program launching this spring that will offer actionable steps for students to improve their personal well-being, find healthy relationships and community, and cultivate practical skills in addition to those learned in the classroom.

“We want to make sure our Buffs understand the hard work and dedication required to find success, not only in the classroom but in the real world,” said Amber Black, assistant vice president for student success and wellbeing. “This step-by-step journey will help us better assess how students are improving through their interactions with departments and divisions all across campus.”

Ultimately, Journey of the Buffalo will spotlight the meaning and purpose of activities facilitated by Student Affairs, Black said.

“We’re often considered to be in charge of the fun stuff, and having fun certainly is an important part of the college experience,” Black said. “But this journey really emphasizes the intentionality with which we plan our activities, such as orientation programs, Supplemental Instruction sessions, career fairs and others.”

The program—inspired by “The Curricular Approach to Student Affairs: A Revolutionary Shift for Learning Beyond the Classroom” by Kathleen G. Kerr, Keith E. Edwards, James Tweedy, Hilary L. Lichterman and Amanda R. Knerr—was first brought to the Division of Student Affairs’ attention by the Office for Residential Living, said Chance Haugen, assistant vice president for campus community and engagement.

“When I started in my position in June, one of my main focuses was to get all of our different departments to work together to impact student learning,” Haugen said. “This approach is all about student learning—what they’re learning in our programs and different offices. For many years, the measurement tool was how many students attended an event, but attendance doesn’t mean you’ve learned anything.”

The program calls for students to be challenged and motivated “to grow as people of integrity to reach their full potential at WT and beyond.”

“We want to make sure that when our students leave the University, they have learned a set of valuable skills and are ready for life in the real world,” Haugen said.

In the pilot semester, the Division of Student Affairs, the Office for Diversity and Inclusion, and Advising Services each will find ways to address two learning outcomes under the initiative’s three major goals: personal well-being, healthy relationships and community, and practical skills.

For Advising Services, which works with every student during their first two years at WT, Journey of the Buffalo will “help students understand that what they do outside the classroom aligns with what they do inside the class,” said Alyson Ries, director.

“We will implement this program with every new student to make sure they can use all of these tools that are available to them,” Ries said. “This program will help our students see the bigger picture of how it all fits together. Every student in our space will feel comfortable in knowing what it takes to get a degree.”

To improve their personal well-being, students will work on discerning the impact of societal influences on their own beliefs and values, developing a healthy lifestyle, evaluating setbacks as temporary events, and formulating a plan for financial stability.

In an effort to encourage deeper campus interactions as a way to build healthy relationships and community, students will use tools to form, strengthen and end relationships; interact with a diverse population; engage in student organizations; and take part in impactful civic engagement.

And to build their reserve of practical skills, students will learn ways to be self-sufficient; become engaged learners; pursue personal, professional and/or career goals; and develop authentic leadership proficiencies.

“The Journey of the Buffalo is the purpose-driven, developmental and transformational change process we want for all of our WT students,” said Dr. Chris Thomas, vice president for student affairs. “I am excited to work with this outstanding team in our division and across the University as we concentrate our efforts on effective collaboration and student retention.”

Journey of the Buffalo aligns with WT’s desire to create in its students a commitment to being self-reliant, courageous, resourceful and part of something larger than one’s self, as laid out in the University’s long-range plan, WT 125: From the Panhandle to the World.

That plan is fueled by the historic, $125 million One West comprehensive fundraising campaign. To date, the five-year campaign — which publicly launched in September 2021 — has raised more than $115 million.

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